Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Cleveland of Sweden

The drive from Stockholm to Goteborg was pretty easy. Easy for me, since I did absolutely none of the driving on this trip. Good job, Darrell. Getting out of the city was very civilized and nonaggressive. There's not a lot of horn blowing or angry driving in Sweden. Made the morning rush hour escape noteworthy in its uneventfulness. This makes sense to me, and possibly only to me.

It took about five hours to get to Goteborg. The GPS guided us safely back to the Volvo HQ where we dropped off our mud-encrusted car. We emptied out the car and Volvo promised to make it all spic and span before shipping it home. Note: At the start of the trip we asked if we could use the car to carry larger purchases back to the states. The answer was NO. The car had to be empty as it went through customs. We were glad we asked, even though we didn't buy ANYTHING other than what we ate, drank, slept in or handed to a ticket-taker.

The nice Volvo man drove us to our hotel in downtown Goteborg. We stayed two nights at the Radisson Blu, a very nice hotel located near the city center and colorful local entertainment - like the Swedish Michael Jackson.
The Swedish Michael Jackson

Volvo paid for one night of our stay in this vibrant, working-class city. Goteborg somehow reminded us of Cleveland, and I mean that in a good way. You can read about Cleveland's problems in someone else's blog. Goteborg seemed more down-to-earth and accessible than Stockholm. The people had more grit and girth, and that's not to say they were fat and unfriendly, they just seemed more regular. We spent a day and a half here, walking around, taking a bus tour and just chilling out before heading home.

Rooftop view of the city and the port
Upon arrival we went on the hunt for lunch and found plenty of choices well within walking distance of our hotel. We stopped in a pub and had a nice chat with the young bartender who was from New Zealand. I'll call him Sam. Sorry I don't have a picture of Sam. He's really cute. Sam told us how easy it is to get a work visa in Sweden. His girlfriend is from Goteborg and all he had to do to get his visa was prove that they were a couple. We heard a similar story from an American girl living in Stockholm. (Did I mention that already?) Sam also said how confounding he found the language and we had a laugh about that. Then he pointed out, with a bit of disdain, the "Norwegians." Very wealthy men with an air of entitlement, in Sam's estimation. He went on to say that the cost of living in Norway far exceeds that of Sweden. We were a bit dumbfounded by that. Yikes! What are we talkin'...$40 hamburgers? Could be.

Other highlights in Goteborg included Saluhallen, an indoor marketplace similar to Cleveland's West Side Market, only the West Side Market is cooler, more authentic.

Also, Olhallen, a 100+ years old beer hall. One room. No food. No wine. No liquor. Just beer, thank you very much. Darrell wasn't too impressed, but I thought it was worth a picture. Too bad they didn't have any Dortmunder.

There are lots of restaurants in Goteborg. We found a little out-of-the-way gem, Indiska Hornet (Indian Corner) and enjoyed a terrific Tandoori dinner there.

The other culinary, Cleveland-like highlight was the breakfast buffet at the Radisson. Getting readjusted to USA breakfasts, we enjoyed all the bacon, sausages and eggs you could shake a stick at. There were still plenty of cold cuts and plain yogurt, too. Both mornings as we had our breakfast we could hear the mood music over the PA system. Sure enough, we weren't imagining that we were listening to the Kenny G Christmas album...on May 31 and June 1. Swedish humor? You tell me.

On the morning of our departure, after breakfast with Kenny, another nice Volvo man picked us up and took us to the airport. They said they would do that and they kept their word. I love me some Swedish promises and we're on our way, having enjoyed a great trip, happy to head home.

The only glitch getting home was due to a tornado in the Boston area that delayed our departure out of Newark by several hours. This enabled us to catch up on the news via CNN and the continuous loop of Anthony Weiner explaining that his Twitter account had been hacked and he had nothing to do with sending lewd photos to young girls, and with a name like Weiner and blahdy-blah-blah. The first time I watched the interview I thought "who's Anthony Weiner?" By about the eighth time I watched it I had my answer. He's a flippin' liar, that's who! Why I oughta.

Welcome to America.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

"The Girl With The Sensible Shoes"

Not many people are aware that the title of this post served as the working title of Stieg Larsson's last book, the story of Lisbeth Salander's long lost Aunt Laura, who came to Stockholm with her Chuck Taylors, a Volvo and a dream. That's because I just made that up. Hard to believe, I know. But the truth is I did pack my Chuck Taylors at the last minute and wore them constantly in Stockholm, with great comfort and confidence as Converse were de rigueur there. I talk like I know who Chuck Taylor is. I don't, or didn't, until Darrell told me that the shoes were named for him. I'm assuming Chuck had something to do with basketball. And yes, I said "de rigueur."

Enough about shoes and more about beautiful Stockholm, a city situated on 14 islands, connected by 57 bridges, infused and embraced by Lake Malaren and the Baltic Sea. We stayed in the Columbus Hotell (http://www.columbushotell.se/eng/info.htm) in the heart of Sodermalm, a gentrified "cool 'hood" full of boutiques, galleries, cafes, clubs and restaurants. Lisbeth's apartment was in Sodermalm. The Columbus Hotell is a mid-priced hotel for (expensive) Stockholm. I think our room was around $200/night, which included a full breakfast. I expected a tiny room with just enough space for us and our luggage - like we had in London. But when we opened our door we were delighted to find a sitting room with a couch and TV, then a sizable bedroom and bath. Really nice and quiet and comfortable. The quiet part might have had something to do with the cemetery outside our window. We recommended the Columbus Hotell to other friends who were making a Finland/Sweden trip and they loved it, too. So it wasn't a fluke.

We stayed in Stockholm for three days and made great use of The Stockholm Card, which we bought online while still in the states. Just load up the card with money and number of days and then use it for just about every museum, church, palace, gallery and all public transportation, including groovy little water taxis. Very convenient and a lot better than digging around for cash all the time.

We toured the Royal Palace, which was decorated in early gaud. Yikes there was a lot of chunky, clumsy, gold and silver regalia all over the place. And portraits galore of the royal family. We were surprised to learn that Gene Wilder was a descendant.

Another notable stop was the Royal Opera House where we encountered crabby Lars and Budapest cake at a nearby cafe (see earlier post). I think Lars and the Real Cake was more memorable than the Opera House, which was nice but can't touch Cleveland's theaters for beauty and splendor.

The Fotografiska Museet was also very cool and we were struck by a fantastic showing of Canadian photographer Ed Burtynksy's manufactured landscapes.

We also visited the Vasa Museet. They built a museum to house this ship that was built in 1628 and sank on its maiden voyage because of the dumb design. But some archeologist dug it up in the 1950s and it was restored and put on display. A monument to stupidity, I guess.

I think our favorite stop was The Tiel Gallery in Djurgarden - not far from the Museum of the Stupid Ship.

The Tiel Gallery was a house built by this Swedish banker, Ernest Thiel, designed for the display of his fantastic art collection, including works by Munch, Vuillard, Toulouse-Lautrec. We arrived 15 minutes before closing so had to zippidy-do-dah through, but it really made an impression. And Djurgarden is a beautiful park of an island, perfect for the Sunday stroll that we took after the Tiel.

Let's see, what else about Stockholm? More than I can cover here, it's a terrific city, full of young people and young families. Babies everywhere, but they're well maintained. Lots of young, lots of old, like Gamla Stan, The Old Town, full of narrow, cobbled streets, lined with shops, galleries, cafes, restaurants and dogs that bear a striking resemblance to Winston Churchill. And Koh Phangan, this nutty Thai restaurant, packed with people, kitsch, and cricket and tropical thunder sound effects.

And while this isn't particular to Stockholm, but rather the Swedish language in general, it was mind-numbing to try to match the spelling of a word to its pronunciation. For example, on the Metro, you'd think the Malarhojden stop should sound something close to "malar" and "hoden." You would be wrong. It sounds more like "yourmotherwearshulahoops." Just ask the New Zealand bartender in Goteburg, he'll corroborate this phenomenon. Next.